Guide to iPad and other Tablet Devices : Part 1
With prices ranging from $100 to $1000,
there are a lot of things to consider when choosing a Tablet
The Samsung Galaxy Tab
P1000 - a 7" screen tablet now coming on sale, is one of the
eagerly anticipated new iPad competitors.
Which of the growing
number of tablet devices is best for you? Our Buyer's
Guide helps you to answer that question.
Apple's iPad release has been
transformational, creating a new product category that has won
immediate and massive acceptance in the marketplace.
Unsurprisingly, many other
companies (23 for sure, so far) are rushing to create competing products, and
unsurprisingly also, there is still an evolving lack of clarity
about what constitutes a tablet, a lack of clarity that some
lesser known companies are using to exploit the market.
So here's a buying guide to
help you understand your choices and make an appropriately
informed decision about what type of tablet with what options
would be best suited for you.
The Boom in 'Tablet' style
It is a bit like the wild
west out there with the exploding growth of an ill-defined new
consumer product, the 'tablet' computer.
The there have been
computing devices referred to as tablets before, and for many
years, but they have never been more than marginal products and
never mainstream. The appearance of the iPad earlier in
2010 both redefined and rejuvenated the tablet concept, and for
the balance of this article, when we talk about 'tablet'
computers, we are not referring to the old, bulky,
user-unfriendly devices that failed to win marketplace
acceptance; we are talking about the new generation of devices
springing up from the iPad launch.
Due to the newness and the
vagueness of what a tablet now is (and is not) and the
additional confusion of previous devices also called tablets but
which have nothing in common with this new concept, many companies are
taking any sort of product that has some sort of a touch screen
and basic audio and video playback capabilities, probably
combined with Wi-fi, and calling it a tablet, then perhaps
hopefully pricing it at vastly more money than it is really
Overpricing is probably
a short term phenomenon - watch what will happen once the market becomes
filled with competing devices. It seems reasonable to expect prices to then start
plunging, and many of the 23 plus companies who are currently
planning to release tablet devices will disappear out of the
market as quickly as they arrived.
But, until that happens, and
equally importantly, until people clearly understand what a
tablet should be, we
return to our opening statement. It is a bit like the wild
west out there, and it is definitely a case of caveat emptor.
With prices ranging almost
exactly from $100 or slightly less at the low end, and all the way up to $1000 or
slightly more at the high end, and with additional costs
with buying software (ie applications or 'apps') and for data
access (maybe a one or two year contract locking you
in to ongoing costs), table style computers can be very
expensive, and there's plenty of opportunity to choose the wrong
Most importantly of all,
there's not yet any clear correlation between price and value.
What is a Tablet Computer
Let's start off by
understanding what a tablet computer probably is (and is not). The vagueness of
the definition is perhaps best exemplified by considering an
iPod Touch, an iPhone, and an iPad.
All three run almost
exactly the same iOS operating system, all three offer Wi-fi
connectivity, two of the three have cameras (not the iPad), two
of the three can access 3G data networks (not the iPod Touch)
and two of the three come without any type of contractual lock
(not the iPhone). Lots of other features are shared
between two or all three devices.
But only one of these three
devices is deemed to be a tablet style computer - the iPad.
And in understanding why this is, we get the first defining element of
what makes a tablet type computer - it needs to have a color touch
screen that is larger than that found on a typical phone or
This touch screen
requirement also closes off another 'almost tablet' type of
computing device - eBook readers, which are also enjoying a
massive surge in popularity, but which generally do not have
color touch screens. The mention of eBooks opens up an entire
sub-topic we'll carefully avoid here - do you need both an
eBook reader and a tablet computer?
What else is required in
order for a device to be fairly labeled a tablet?
suggest it needs to be lightweight and portable. It must
have Wi-Fi connectivity, and be able to play audio and video.
It must have a reasonably fully featured browser (many
applications choose to interact with devices through a web
interface rather than through a program, due to the web
interface being hopefully more universal and less platform
dependent) and email capability. In addition to a web
browser and email client, it also needs to have a reasonable
range of application software allowing it to handle many
ordinary type computing tasks (including the ability to display
PDF files, and to read Word and Excel documents).
Beyond these basics,
everything else is more or less optional and may or may not be
present to a greater or lesser extent.
Features to Consider
We've prepared an
for you to download and use when comparing different tablet
computers providing a hopefully convenient way for you to
summarize the distinguishing differences between competing
products and to even calculate scores to help you identify the
most suitable tablet solution for your needs.
How to use the Excel
You can use this either in
'simple' mode or in 'expert' mode.
In simple mode, simply use
the spreadsheet as you would a piece of paper on which to take
notes, and ignore the columns asking you to set relative
importance and to give scores. This will allow the
spreadsheet to be a convenient reference piece for you to
remember what issues might be important/relevant in your buying
decision, and to see at a glance how different tablets stack up
against each other under those issues.
In so-called expert mode,
you can have the spreadsheet calculate an overall score for each
different tablet you are evaluating.
This requires you to do one
and possibly two extra things.
The first thing is that you
need to score each tablet on the attributes that are important
to you. Higher scores mean the particular tablet you are
scoring is better at that particular thing, and lower scores of
course mean it is worse. We suggest you use a 0 - 5 scale
for this, but you can use any scale you like.
The second thing is you can
also adjust the importance of each different feature. We
have given them all a default setting of 3, but you can reduce
the value of things that don't really matter, and/or increase
the value of things that do matter. Again, we suggest
using a score of 0 - 5, but you can use any range you like.
Now for one very important
thing. The spreadsheet automatically calculates the total
score for each tablet by multiplying each feature's relative
importance by each product's score, and then adding them all up.
This will give a somewhat helpful total number for you at the
bottom of the spreadsheet for each different tablet.
BUT. If you
don't score each tablet on all the same features, you'll get
misleading scores. For example, say you know the battery
life of two tablets, and give one a 3 score and the other a 4
score, but you don't know the battery life of the third tablet
you are ranking. If you don't put a value in that score
box, the system will give the tablet a 0 score for battery life,
whereas obviously (presumably!) it actually deserves some sort
of score. We suggest you fill in all the blanks you don't
know with average or slightly below average scores and highlight
them so you know what you don't know, and update your
guess/average scores as/if/when you find out more about each
In addition to the brief
explanatory notes attached to many of the title cells down the
left hand side of the spreadsheet, here are some more detailed
comments, following the same order as the spreadsheet.
Be sure to comparison shop
for the lowest price for the unit(s) you become most interested
Apple iPads are not
discounted, but most other brands of tablet computer may be
available at lower prices through some sources than others.
Support can be an issue, as
was exemplified unfortunately by Google's short lived (some
might say 'disastrous') foray into cell phones, when users of
its Nexus 1 phone got stuck in a nightmare whereby Google,
T-Mobile and HTC (the underlying manufacturer of the phone) all
blamed each other for problems and said it was someone else's
fault to fix the problems that arose. This was made even
worse by Google not providing phone support.
So be sure you'll have ready
access to good support for the hardware and operating system.
Of course, application support - other than for those
applications provided standard with the unit - will be the
responsibility of each individual app vendor/developer, but for
underlying hardware and OS issues, make sure there is someone
you can conveniently turn to who will helpfully assist,
preferably with phone support.
The issues of size and
weight are much more
important than you might think.
For sure, the size is
largely predetermined by the size of the screen (fully discussed
in the next section), but the necessary bezel around the screen (so that you
can hold the unit without touching the touch sensitive screen
and confusing the unit) varies in size, as does the thickness of
the unit too.
Sadly, and by definition, no
tablets will fit in your shirt pocket, so they'll all need to be
carried in some sort of carry bag if you are taking them with
you, but even so, smaller is definitely better than bigger.
Even more important than
size is weight. You might think an iPad weighing
'only' 1.5 or 1.6 lbs is amazingly light, and that weight is
almost an irrelevance, but this is absolutely not the case at
Trust me. When you
actually hold your iPad unsupported for any period of time, it will quickly
become heavy and uncomfortable, and you'll be looking for
convenient ways to rest it on something rather than to hold it
The lighter these units can
be, the better and more usable they are.
of a multi part Buyers Guide to iPad/tablet devices.
Please visit the other parts of this series - links at the
If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.
30 Sep 2010, last update
28 Nov 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.